Catalonia leader pushes on with banned Sunday vote

Catalonia leader pushes on with banned Sunday vote
President of the Catalan regional government Artur Mas gives a press conference at the Generalitat of Catalonia in Barcelona on Oct 31, after Spanish government announced that it would go to the Constitutional Court to challenge a symbolic referendum on independence.

BARCELONA - Catalonia's leader vowed Wednesday that a symbolic independence vote banned by the Spanish government will go ahead on November 9, setting the stage for a constitutional conflict unprecedented in post-Franco Spain.

Defying the latest in a string of legal challenges by Madrid, regional president Artur Mas promised to defend Catalans' "right to decide", despite a ruling from Spain's Constitutional Court a day earlier to suspend the planned vote.

"We have decided to carry on with this participative process," Mas said.

"All peoples have the right to decide their future."

Sunday's vote, which Mas insisted is not a "referendum", will be organised by volunteers without an official electoral roll, but holding it in defiance of the court's veto puts Mas on delicate ground.

Pushing on with the vote, after the court ordered it be suspended while it rules on an appeal by Madrid, will be seen as an act of civil disobedience, analysts say.

Proud of their distinct language and culture, and accounting for nearly a fifth of Spain's economy, Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants have increasingly demanded greater autonomy.

Catalonia formally adopted the status of a "nation" in a 2006 charter that increased its autonomy, but the Constitutional Court overruled that nationhood claim, fuelling pro-independence feeling.

Spain's recent economic crisis has increased unemployment and hardship in the region and swelled its debts, but in 2012 Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected Mas's request for greater powers for Catalonia to tax and spend.

Catalans were fired up by the independence referendum in Scotland in September, even though voters there rejected a separation from Britain.

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